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Conscious Eating: Choosing Ethical Animal Products

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After receiving many comments from our readers, we felt it necessary that we clarify some issues that were raised in the Conscious Eating article recently printed in the Good Life magazine. A number of people have written in concerned about the article’s description of farming in Canada. The information in the article was taken from a number of reputable sources and the content was checked for accuracy. However, we have realized that the article did not give credit to those ethical farmers who are dedicated to the welfare of their animals. For that we apologize. The article was intended to direct readers to exactly these types of farms, as choosing meat that has been raised ethically ensures the welfare and safety of these animals. By bringing attention to the existence of factory farming we hoped to inform readers that there are a number of responsible farmers that do make the effort to safeguard their animals’ dignity and wellbeing. We wanted to provide readers with information, like SPCA certification, that can help them to make informed decisions in the future. We certainly did not intend to infer that all farmers in Canada adopt factory farming practices and we do apologize to any individuals who may have taken offence to the content in the article. We realize that there are many farmers who dedicate their lives to their animals, and we in no way meant to slander or insult any of these hardworking individuals.

The 2008 documentary film Food Inc., directed by Robert Kenner, brought to light many issues regarding the processing of animal products and had a great number of people thinking twice about the products that they were regularly buying in grocery stores. The vast majority of people had never seen the inside of a slaughter house or experienced the overwhelmingly depressing sight of a feed lot.  The movie is both terrifying and morbidly fascinating as it winds through the farms (a term that is used very loosely in this case) of commercial food giants like Tyson, Perdue and Smithville.

Imagine you are walking through the stalls of the animal barn in a local farming exhibition. You see cows lined up chewing their hay, piglets roughhousing with their littermates, and sheep sticking their heads out between the fence bars to get a better look at the action. These may not be the exact animals that are going to end up on your dinner plate this evening, but they are the same creatures. As you marvel at the size of the somehow dignified cows and at the antics of the piglets it’s hard to imagine that thousands of these animals have been ruthlessly slaughtered in the small amount of time that you have been watching them.

ConsciousAnimals

Factory Farming:

Over 95% of the 650 million animals that are raised for food in Canada live the majority of their lives on factory farms. They spend their short existences either completely confined or in horrific conditions that do not end in a merciful death.  Factory farmed animals are subjected to genetic manipulation, neglect, mutilation and drug treatments that cause chronic pain. During the transport process, animals are beaten or shocked and are forced into overcrowded conditions and extreme temperatures that cause a great many to die before they reach their final destination. Laws in Canada state that animals in transport must only be fed and watered once every 36 hours of travel. Once they reach the slaughterhouse these animals spend their last hours in a state of terror and then are violently killed.

Chickens:

Over 600 million chickens at any given time are raised on factory farms. Broiler chickens, which are raised for their meat, are kept in dark, crowded warehouses where they packed in so tightly they are almost unable to move for the majority of their lives. They have their beak tips amputated without any sort of anesthetic and suffer from ammonia burns and respiratory diseases. These chickens only live to be a few months old before they are killed for their meat. They are given growth hormones and fed only corn to speed up their growth process. Because the chickens grow far faster than intended, often their legs are not strong enough to support the weight of their bodies, and even if there was enough space to move, they would be unable to.

Egg laying chickens are even worse off than broiler chickens and are arguably the most abused animals on factory farms. They are packed six deep into cages with floor areas the size of a folded newspaper. They are not able to move, or even spread their wings, for their entire lives. Many develop skin conditions due to constant rubbing on the wire sides of the cages and up to twenty percent die as a result of continuous stress. In the egg industry, male chicks are not valuable and are discarded immediately upon birth. They are either thrown into a grinder while still alive or placed in a large bag with hundreds of others and left to suffocate. Each year tens of millions of male chicks are cruelly killed on factory farms. A chicken left to live as nature intended, grazing on a patch of grass or roosting in a barn, will live up to twenty years. Egg laying hens in factory farms only reach an average age of one year before dying, while a broiler chicken is killed for its meat only 42 days into its life, and sometimes even sooner.

Pigs:

Pigs are naturally fastidious animals and are particular about their sleeping quarters and even their food. Each year over 30 million pigs are raised on factory farms and brought to slaughter for Canadians’ dinner plates. These pigs must spend their lives in complete darkness, never being allowed outdoors. Sows are kept in 2 foot wide metal gestation cages which literally do not allow them to move more than an inch or two in either direction. They must eat, sleep, urinate and defecate all in this small area. The sows are kept constantly pregnant and often experience crippling leg disorders from their cramped conditions. Upon birth, piglets have their tails docked, their ears clipped and are castrated all without the use of any anesthetic. Once reaching the slaughter house, pigs are grouped together in a small space where they wait in fear until a large mechanical wall moves towards them at high speeds and forces all of the animals into suffocation.

Cows:

Both dairy cows and beef cows are subject to extreme cruelty on factory farms in Canada. Dairy cows are chained and left to stand in small stalls their entire lives and in most cases are unable to even lie down due to their cramped quarters. They are given hormones to increase their milk production to ten times the amount they would produce under natural circumstances. As are result of the additional milk production, many dairy cows develop mastitis, which is an enlargement of the udder due to bacterial infections. Once a dairy cow can no longer produce enough milk or develops mastitis or lameness they are shipped off to be slaughtered for hamburger meat.  Similar to sows, dairy cows are constantly pregnant and have their newborns taken away from them only hours after birth so that the milk can be used for human consumption. The premature separation causes extreme distress to both the mother and infant calves, to the point where they will cry for days or weeks after being taken away from each other. Male calves are worthless to the dairy industry so they are either killed immediately or placed in dark, small stalls where they are left completely for the first few months of their lives. Between one and three months, these male calves are slaughtered for veal.

Beef cows spend most of their miserable lives on feedlots shared with as many as 40,000 other cows. They stand in manure up to their ankles all day long and often develop respiratory problems from breathing in the methane gas that is a result of the build up of feces. They are given growth hormones and a cocktail of other drugs to increase their growth rate. However, due to the inhumane living conditions, many cows become sick despite of the drugs. These “downed” cows become unable to stand so when the time comes to be taken to slaughter they are dragged with ropes and chains onto the trucks. These beef cattle are dehorned, castrated and branded without the use of any anesthetic and are in a state of extreme terror when they are delivered to the slaughterhouse.

SPCA Certified:

In response to these abhorrent practices, the British Columbia SPCA developed the SPCA Certified program which holds participating farms to a high standard of animal welfare. The standards were developed by an expert panel of animal welfare scientists, veterinarians, and farmers in partnership with the SPCA. Farms labelled with an SPCA Certified logo must ensure that all animals are provided with the five free

doms which are; freedom from discomfort, freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from pain, injury, and disease, freedom from distress, and freedom to express behaviors that promote well being. The standards ensure that egg laying hens are free from cages, that pregnant pigs are free from confinement in gestation stalls, that dairy cows are provided with pain control during horn bud removal, that dairy cows do not have their tails docked, that lameness in farm animals is addressed and controlled, that animal environments promote normal animal behavior, and that animals are not fed antibiotics for growth enhancement. The SPCA has now developed standards for broiler chickens, egg laying hens, turkeys, dairy cattle, beef cattle, pigs, and sheep.  Similar to the SPCA Certified standards are the standards enforced by the Canadian organic industry.  Although not exactly the same, the SPCA standards compliment the Canadian organic standards.

What Can You Do?

The best thing that you can do as a consumer is vote with your wallet. By choosing where you spend your dollars you can support farms that are SPCA Certified rather than funneling money into factory farms. Before going to the grocery store do some research. Try to find out where the store is sourcing their meat and then look into the farm’s ethics and treatment of animals. If you are not able to find a grocery store which stocks ethically raised meats, try sourcing products from local farms. Many farmers offer eggs and meat for sale off their properties which is often a less expensive option. Whenever possible, choose a farm that is certified organic, and SPCA Certified. By doing this you are guaranteeing that the animal has good quality feed, is free of hormones and antibiotics, and has lived a life that promoted its natural behaviors. Most importantly, become educated. As a consumer the best thing you can do is be knowledgeable about the products that you are buying. This way you can make informed decisions about what you are eating and what kind of businesses you are supporting.

spca certifiedNature’s Fare supports and sells the products of the following SPCA Certified farms:

  • Bradner Farms
  • Rabbit River Farms
  • Vale Farms Grassroots Ltd.
  • Second Nature Farms

In addition, we sell certified organic meat from Organic World, a company located in Chilliwack B.C. All meat from Organic World is in compliance with organic standards for animal care.

Posted on November 21,2012
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4 Comments »

  1. Nature's Fare Markets

    First of all we want to say thank you for taking the time to write to us about the Conscious Eating article. We do appreciate your opinions and I am sorry to hear that you felt that the comments and facts were not appropriate or accurate. I think its important to say that the purpose of the article was to bring attention to animal welfare and the poor conditions in which many animals must spend their lives. It was not meant as an attack on family farms and community producers. As a company we make every effort to source out farmers who raise their animals in conditions that promote natural behaviors and retain the animals’ dignity. This is something that is extremely important to us and that we take very seriously.

    You have asked to see the sources for the article so I will list some of them below:
    http://www.vegnews.ca – this is a vegetarian website that is affiliated with the non profit agency Mercy for Animals Canada. Mercy for Animals is committed to preventing animal cruelty on farms across the country. It has been recognized as one of the Top 15 High-Impact Non Profit Organizations.
    Vancouver Humane Society – http://www.vancouverhumanesociety.bc.ca
    The Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals – http://www.humanefood.ca
    Beyond Factory Farming – http://www.beyondfactoryfarming.org
    British Columbia SPCA http://www.spca.bc.ca

    Once again, I do apologize if the information in the article has offended you. Like I mentioned above the goal of the article was to address animal welfare, and was meant to bring attention to cruel practices. The article was intended to commend our suppliers for being responsible and ethical in their treatment of “food” animals and inform consumers that they do have options when it comes to choosing their meat.

    Dec 10,2012 @ 10:42 am

  2. Nature's Fare Markets

    After receiving many comments from our readers, we felt it necessary that we clarify some issues that were raised in the Conscious Eating article recently printed in the Good Life magazine. A number of people have written in concerned about the article’s description of farming in Canada. The information in the article was taken from a number of reputable sources and the content was checked for accuracy. However, we have realized that the article did not give credit to those ethical farmers who are dedicated to the welfare of their animals. For that we apologize. The article was intended to direct readers to exactly these types of farms, as choosing meat that has been raised ethically ensures the welfare and safety of these animals. By bringing attention to the existence of factory farming we hoped to inform readers that there are a number of responsible farmers that do make the effort to safeguard their animals’ dignity and wellbeing. We wanted to provide readers with information, like SPCA certification, that can help them to make informed decisions in the future. We certainly did not intend to infer that all farmers in Canada adopt factory farming practices and we do apologize to any individuals who may have taken offence to the content in the article. We realize that there are many farmers who dedicate their lives to their animals, and we in no way meant to slander or insult any of these hardworking individuals.

    Dec 10,2012 @ 11:29 am

  3. Nature's Fare Markets

    We got a lot of response from readers about the “Eating Consciously” article featured in the November/December 2012 issue. We would like to take this opportunity to address some of the questions and comments that were raised.

    The intent of the article was to provide readers with information that would allow them to make informed choices about the food that they buy for their families. Armed with this knowledge, we hope that readers would choose to support ethical farmers and their operations as well as invest a little of their time to discover where their meat and poultry products were sourced. By mentioning SPCA farm certification, we hoped to help readers by providing a certifying body that stands behind ethical farmers and their practices. We wanted to give people an identifiable symbol to look for when purchasing their food products. Most of all, we wanted to expose the negative practices of factory farming while at the same time highlighting the efforts of ethical farmers so that readers could understand the differences between the two. The article was not intended to offend or insult those farmers who treat their animals with dignity and respect. In contrast, it was meant to commend these farmers.

    Chicken Production
    We received an email from the BC Chicken Growers’ Association concerning the “Eating Consciously” article. They asked us to educate our readers on the true facts of chicken production and provided us with some links to information regarding chicken production in Canada. After doing some additional research we found some great chicken producers that concern themselves with the wellbeing of their birds. All of the chickens and turkeys at Rossdown Farms are free run and are not kept in small coops. The birds are not necessarily allowed access to the outdoors; however, they are permitted to engage in natural behaviours. We also found Rockweld Farm in Abbotsford, owned by a husband and wife team who believe in the importance of animal welfare. Rockweld Farm is SPCA certified and certified organic. It was no surprise to us that there are a great number of producers who act with care and attention in regards to their animals’ welfare. We believe that there are a vast number of farmers who uphold strong ethical values when it comes to their practices. Unfortunately, we also know that there are some operations that do not have empathy when it comes to the conditions in which animals are raised. Throughout our research, we also found circumstances that corroborate the information printed in the “Eating Consciously” article. Reading through information from the Vancouver Humane Society confirmed that there are farms that are more interested in making quotas than in the health and wellbeing of their chickens. On some farms, chickens are bred selectively and overfed to the point that their bones cannot support their body weight. It is also true that battery cages exist and that some farms choose to implement a factory style production method in efforts to produce the largest quantity of eggs possible. The most important thing that we took away from this additional research is that there are excellent choices for poultry and poultry products available on the market. Choosing meat and eggs from free range or free run chickens reduces the number of chickens that must be subjected to a battery cage or to small cramped living spaces. Taking a minute to determine the source of one’s eggs and meat can truly make a difference because it not only supports humane treatment of the birds, but it also supports those farmers who are making the effort to provide a natural existence for their poultry.

    Beef Production
    During research for the original article we discovered the National Farm Animal Care Council, which is responsible for creating a Code of Practice for each animal species. The Code include standards surrounding housing systems for the animals, feed and water requirements, husbandry practices, and transportation. The NFACC is currently in the process of developing an Animal Care Assessment Model which will be distributed to farmers nationwide by 2014 and should help to create a standard of care for all farm animals. As we read through the Code of Practice we immediately thought of Cache Creek Natural Beef, a ranch operating on the core values of natural grazing, environmental stewardship, and animal welfare. The owners and operators of Cache Creek Natural Beef embody what it means to farm ethically.

    Cows are raised without hormones, antibiotics, or steroids, because owner Don Millerd and ranch manager Tyler Goold both believe that healthy animals produce healthy, tasty meat. Only those animals that come down with a medical condition are given any type of antibiotic. This is to ensure that the cow does not suffer unnecessary pain as a result of withholding the medication. Illness is extremely rare at the Cache Creek Natural Beef ranch as a result of the care and attention provided to the animals. The cows are truly allowed to engage in natural behaviours and roam the ranch’s grassy fields for the majority of their lives. We know that there are many other farmers out there that practice the same type of moral, principled farming. We commend these dedicated individuals for their commitment to animal welfare and we wish that all operations could be as positive for the animals and for the environment. As we discovered after writing the “Eating Consciously” article, there are still a great number of cows that must spend their lives on feedlots and that are slaughtered without care or sympathy. We feel that it is important to celebrate compassionate farmers like those from Cache Creek Natural Beef, because we know that there are others out there who have decided not to take the additional steps necessary to preserve their animals’ dignity.
    Our hope was that the “Eating Consciously” article would raise readers’ awareness of farmers that are making the extra effort to provide a natural, comfortable, and dignified environment for their livestock. By making mention of the atrocities that are committed on some Canadian farms we hoped that readers would be encouraged to seek out these principled farmers and choose to support their ethical operations. We know that there are a number of researchers who are working towards improving farm animal welfare, like Professor Tina Widowski, from the University of Guelph, who suggested that female sows be moved to group pens rather than kept in gestation stalls for most of their adult lives. Professor Joseph Stookey, from the University of Saskatchewan, is another example of a dedicated individual who is working to reduce the amount of stress and pain that some farm animals must endure. Through education and sharing information we hope that more and more people will become aware of the choices they have when it comes to meat and poultry products and as a result, reduce the viability and prevalence of factory style farming.

    What Can I Do?
    As a consumer there are a number of things you can do to ensure that the meat and poultry products you are eating are raised ethically. First, take the time to ask your butcher where the products are coming from. If they don’t know, find someone who does. Second, take the time to do some research and learn the facts surrounding factory farming. Visit farmers’ markets and speak with the farmers. This will provide you with first hand information on how factory farming is affecting their industry and livelihood. If you are active in social media, share what you have learned on your homepage and encourage others to do the same. Finally, add your name to a petition (there are many available online), contact your local SPCA, or write a letter to the Member of Parliament in your area to become an advocate for farm animal rights and welfare.

    Article was published in The Good Life March/April 2013

    Mar 5,2013 @ 9:54 am

  4. Nature's Fare Markets

    We talked to two industry experts about the meat production in Canada: Jason Pleym, Two Rivers Meats & Don Millerd, Cache Creek Natural Beef
    Q: To the best of your knowledge, does factory farming exist in Canada?
    A: Yes. There is plenty of factory farming in Canada. Almost all (90 – 95%) of the beef consumed in BC comes from Alberta. There are two main reasons for this. Firstly, it takes about four pounds of grain to finish one pound of beef, so it is much more efficient to truck the calves to Alberta where they are close to the grain supply. Secondly, there are two massive killing plants in Alberta that can achieve the economies of scale to drive their costs down. Where the small abattoirs we use might kill up to 20 head per day, these big plants do about 5,000.
    Q: What is the best way for consumers to become educated about their meat purchases?
    A: Ask the grocer where the meat comes from! My guess is that most, unless they are a small butcher, won’t know.
    Q: For those individuals who are concerned about the origin of their meat products, what is the best way for them to determine if their meat has come from a factory farm?
    A: Consumers would be quite safe to assume their beef comes from a factory farm unless the grocer is saying clearly what farm it comes from. This is because it costs a lot more to raise cattle in the “natural” way. Therefore, the rancher must sell it for significantly more to a grocer who is then able to sell it to customers who are prepared to pay a higher price to buy meat that is raised differently.
    Q: What can we as individuals do to ensure that farm animals are treated humanely?
    A: As individuals we can ensure that farm animals are being treated humanely by asking about their origin and farm practices.

    Mar 5,2013 @ 9:55 am

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